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Thread: Shadows of Night pt 10

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    Default Shadows of Night pt 10

    The Helians awoke them early, and they were winging their way towards Chiconis even as the sun cracked the horizon. Ildranos led the way, Melanth following in short order with a dazed Katrina strapped to his back and two Helian bodyguards from the barracks. They set a good pace, one of the bodyguards a little way off Melanth’s right flank matching his speed and turns lest his injured wing give out. Less than ten kilometres from the outpost, he caught his first glimpse of Chiconis.
    The city was shrouded on all sides by three mountains; narrow passes between the peaks being the only way in on foot or through the air that did not involve climbing the jagged peaks themselves. Markers of luminescent crystal floated on the ends of long chains, their radiance clearly visible despite the growing light. The surrounding mountains were a maze of carved spires, buildings and perches, riddled with tunnel openings and personal lairs interspaced with marbled plazas and drinking fountains. Crystal studded the broadwalks and bridges, seemingly as delicate and brittle as milk-stone stalactites from the deepest caves had been melded from the very face of the mountains themselves to stretch between the numerous galleries in the mountain face. The entire thing had a tiered appearance; it looked something like an open-caste mine with the occasional spire and shaped buildings looming from its face, although grass and trees had been carefully cultivated upon each tier; something about the increasing finery and skill of the workmanship said that the wealthier families dwelt in the higher tiers. Aqueducts carried water from pools near the top to the edge of each tier, spilling it into pools below like miniature waterfalls; the pools in turn fed into more aqueducts that terminated in a sizable lake in the basin between the three mountains. Meadows upon which sheep and cattle grazed lay in the valley at the bottom. Plateaus had been dug from the sheer stone and surrounded with decorative pillars of natural rock, beacons, and more of the floating-chained crystals. The architecture of the city had a half melted look to it, all rounded edges and fashioned in the semblance of water-carved caves; elegant, deceptively fragile and utterly alien. Nothing could have been further from the angular, rising structures of human kind. But perhaps strangest and most breath taking of all was the island.
    The island was exactly what it was; a massive chunk of earth and stone seemingly torn from the foundations of the earth itself. Against all natural laws it floated alone aside from a bridge connecting it to the mainland, nestled within a depression of the basin. It was massive; larger than the similar one that had been on Draak, yet smaller than the one in Dralk- almost two miles in circumference and fully five hundred meters deep. It was much like an enormous bowl; hollow on the inside, he knew, and roofed with translucent crystal. Slender bridges connected smaller islands to the main by a walkway that belted the middle of the island. The outside edges were carved and inlayed with gold and the Helians distinctive blue crystals, bas relief frescos showing the draconic history in gouged stone that started to the right of a the spacious entrance and ended on the left; the stone there was smooth, awaiting the future yet to tell.
    Katrina stared around with open eyes amazement as Ildranos took them on a circuit of the basin. The place did not bustle like biped cities; there was very little to bustle about doing, on the surface at least. Dragons sunned themselves in the open spaces or walked around the tiers, occasionally emerging from or disappearing into the hundreds of tunnel mouths on each tier. Hatchlings led by a larger adult ran in formations across the bridges or darted around like oversized lizards, playing tug of war with a bit of gristle or hide and seek. Other dragons were at work digging, writing or standing guard upon the raised perches surrounding the basin. One such guard called out to them in an almost musical greeting that Melanth found himself returning out of sheer habit, drawing questioning glances from his bodyguards. He subsided into an embarrassed silence and followed Ildranos in his descent towards the floating island, where he alighted in a purpose built plaza that lay before the connecting bridge. Several dragons who were seated on perches around the plaza deep in discussion were silenced as Melanth landed, Katrina clinging tightly to his neck.
    “Are you ok?? He asked her, more so he wouldn’t have to look at the confused and bewildered stares of the formerly arguing dragons and take it as a challenge.
    “I could have done with a few more hours sleep.? She said. “But this place, it’s... incredible! I never thought that dragons could build much at all, let alone something like this! How can a place like this exist? It’s so... different.? She finished lamely, not knowing how else to politely describe.
    “You will learn a lot whilst you are here.? He said, turning his gaze on one of the gawkers and staring him down until he looked away. “Dragons are different from humans in terms of body, but we are just as different from you in our ways of thinking. I am something of an oddity amongst my kind.? He grinned. “Not a great many dragons understand bipeds as well as I do. You would be better to converse with the Gifted ones here, if you can find them. They will be more receptive to you, and more forgiving of mistakes.?
    “About that,? she said, “What exactly do I need to know if I’m going to avoid getting eaten or squished or whatever??
    “Not a great deal for the moment.? He said, following the blue as he walked across the bridge. “It will suffice for now that you are in my company as a friend, but dragon society paces great emphasis on certain things that are fairly unimportant to humans; precedence, feeding rights, sires, the order in which one may speak. It is very complicated, especially to an outsider and the slightest breach of protocol can be interpreted as an insult that demands compensation. Duels are common, though usually bloodless.?
    “You say usually?? She said, a faint waver in her voice.
    “Accidents happen.? He tapped a scar over his left eye. “Also, you should know that draconic and the human language does not translate perfectly into one another. Use metaphors a lot if we have to address the council, as they will be more easily understood.?
    He briefed her on the need to know information of dragons as they entered the floating island; how to distinguish male from female; that a bow was a sign of respect unless the horns were exposed, in which case it was a challenge; how to recognise by the position of head fins and flicking of a tail if a dragon was becoming agitated. He tried to explain in brief the viper’s nest of different political arrangements, but became so hopelessly confused himself that he gave up. Ildranos pushed a way through the crowds of arguing dragons; Melanth occasionally drew a surprised glance or derogatory comment followed by a titter. He ignored it all, focussing on Ildranos’ back and holding his head high and proud above the slighter, more scholarly Helians. He was perhaps being dishonest with her about the severity of the social taboos of dragon society, he knew, but he could afford no mistakes. Ildranos had discreetly suggested before leaving the outpost that he dismount Katrina upon landing or even carry her in his claws rather than upon his back. He had refused of course; his entire intention was to spark rumours and stories, to make the dragons ask questions and wonder why. He could always challenge them to a duel should they make a personal slight or a slight upon the Lunus and honour come into question. And of course the last thing he wanted was for Katrina to get trodden on or absentmindedly eaten. The Helians were better than the Lunus for that sort of thing, he admitted privately to himself, but bipeds were still known to go missing in Chiconis.
    Ildranos took them down a wide side tunnel that led out onto the walkway around the island. The place was shadowed so few dragons roved here compared to the collective chaos within the island. All the major political venues were contained either within the island proper or one of its smaller satellites, and Ildranos led them to one that Melanth instantly recognised as the military headquarters by its roofing of red ruby. As sanguine as the roof, the older Gifted Captain from yesterday was waiting outside, sunning himself on the roof so that he looked like one facet of the ceiling. He yawned and rose to his feet as they approached.
    “That time already? Dear me. I must be losing track of the sun as I get older.? He said, bowing a greeting that they returned, Katrina taking care not to break eye contact as Melanth had told her to. “Let us make a start then. The sooner this is done the better.?
    The red took them below into the depths of the island; outside it appeared to be deceptively small but its interior was expansive. It was also, surprisingly, deserted. When he extended a tentative question to Ildranos the blue replied that the command staff had gone to personally oversee the ongoing campaign in the Eastern Deadlands, and in the interim most day to day decisions were left to the Captains of the various perimeter outposts around the city. Only the lowermost room was occupied; it was a large council room, hung with captured banners and weapons displayed from prisons of transparent crystal along the walls. Two dragons were waiting to receive them; a massive green with a Councillor’s collar and a black female speckled with turquoise spots so that her hide was reminiscent of the night sky. They exchanged bows and pleasantries before arranging themselves on loungers around a central pool.
    “What is that?? Katrina asked, climbing from his neck and seating herself on his right. The water seemed strangely viscous and reflective despite the low illumination of the room.
    “Purified primal essence.? The black one answered, angling her head to regard their group curiously. She spoke the human language fluently, a strong Lunus accent to her words. “It allows us to shape our thoughts and memories into pictures for others to see. A useful tool.?
    “At least they are taking this seriously then.? The red Captain murmured as Ildranos and the Councillor completed the introductions. “This stuff is weight for weight more valuable than gold.?
    “Let us hope it remains that way.? Melanth said, wondering if he would leave the room furious or relieved.

    ***

    He got his answer very quickly.
    If there was one thing that the Lunus dreaded, it was chaos. Plans were made to be followed quickly and to the letter with minimal bumbling and maximum shouting, in the typical manner perfected by almost every military in every universe ever to exist. The Lunus were regarded as master strategists and unequalled warriors because they understood that by setting realistic objectives and instilling in their soldiers a determination to see it done, there was a reasonably good chance that a sufficiently well equipped and trained force of dragons would be able to do it. Even if ‘it’ happened to be “Shave Fafnir the Despoiler’s eyebrow off?.
    Moreover, they were taught not to think too much about the job at hand, except maybe in terms of achievability. Lunus were trained to obey; too much thinking was considered a dangerous distraction to a line trooper and was mostly left to the officers. To a certain kind of mind there was something wonderfully simple about that arrangement. However, like any military force that was experienced at battle, they recognised that there came a time when even the best laid plans ceased to apply to a real-time situation and unfortunate warriors had to start thinking for themselves or face the prospect of stopping thinking altogether.
    To help rectify this, certain informal circles of Lunus had developed an independent set of pidgin phrases comprising elements of several biped tongues and their own native draconic to help clarify unexpected events, and in doing so bring a semblance of order to chaos. “Where the hell did they all come from?? was a fairly obvious one, as was “we won’t be seeing them again.? “Weser’s lost his hat? took a bit more understanding, and only the most unfortunate or bloody-minded young dragon would ever learn what “grab, twist and pull? meant.
    There was one phrase that the Lunus dreaded above all others though, because as soon as it was uttered, the battle was lost. It was a euphemism for despair. Just hearing it said and knowing what it portended was enough to break the morale of the indomitable dragons and sap any will to fight they had.
    And that most dreaded of phrases was “It’s all gone political.?
    This was because the Lunus, warriors to a fault, understood that as soon as war and politics became intermingled nothing good could result. There would be talk, and more talk, and probably quite a lot of red tape. To a warrior, the backstabbing, sweet-talking and narcissism of politics was as bad as facing a hedge of spears. More so, in fact. You knew where you were with a spear; it had a sharp end and a blunt end, and if you bit off the sharp end they were left with a blunt end that was useless to the unfortunate bastard using it. There was no sharp end with politics; as soon as you thought you had found one and bitten it off, they had stuck it up your tailvent.
    The session dragged on for hours, and Melanth began to entertain thoughts of biting heads off politicians and stuffing them up their tailvents. He had long since given up listening to the proceedings; the Councillor’s voice had a monotonous drone like a dung fly, and the few times he had attempted to insert himself into the discussion his opinion had been ignored or overridden. They had asked him for his account, which he had delivered as though he were being debriefed before he and the black female between them had translated Katrina’s version of affairs. Then the red Captain and the green Councillor had trailed off into a discussion between the two of them, occasionally asking Melanth or Katrina to clarify what they had witnessed by delivering their memories into the purified primal essence. That at least was fascinating to watch; the essence would first fountain up into shapes and patterns -strangely smooth and lacking exquisite detail because the memory is not perfect- then it would return to the basin, leaving behind a faint, smoke-like impression of the memory in their air that dissipated after but a few moments.
    As the discussion went on, Melanth found himself becoming increasingly angry, like a kettle left too long on the stove. He took the opportunity in the long and boring debate to teach Katrina a few words of draconian dialect; the growling, chirping, whistling language of dragons that would be impossible for her human throat to reproduce, but she soon came to understand at least a few basic sounds.
    He also learned a little of those he was sharing the room with. It transpired that Ildranos was both lieutenant and aide to the red Captain, whose name was Crozialus. The scarlet veteran took the dual mantle of Captain of the Guard and representative of the Gifted within Chiconis during the absence of the higher echelons of Helian military command, but was evidently a respected figure amongst Helian politics in any case, to judge by the Councillor’s near hostile approach.
    The black, cyan speckled female was a Gifted of the Lunus called Darkskye, who had been passing through en-route to investigate a disturbance in Selen when they had arrived. She had been shanghaied on the request of Crozialus to serve as an informal envoy of the Lunus, record proceedings and then carry a report back to Dralk. She seemed as thoroughly bored as Melanth; carving draconic runes into thin slabs of laminated slate with a claw and sometimes asking the belligerents to repeat a statement. Her voice was almost musical to listen to, and she asked Katrina and Melanth about their journey with deep interest. He noted that for a Lunus she had surprisingly good understanding of the Human ways, and did not seem at all uncomfortable speaking directly to a member of a race she was oath-bound to hate.
    The Councillor did not give his name, preferring to go by his title. He appeared to be a minor politician rather than a senior governor as he had hoped, perhaps audaciously, they would receive an audience with. He was also full of his own minor self-importance to the point that Melanth ground his teeth in frustration, wondering if there was any way he could legally challenge him to a duel without offering insult. Ildranos quietly counselled patience, suggesting that the Helian Council wished to keep matters clandestine until such a time as a course of action presented its self. Privately he doubted the tenacity of the blue’s claim; suspecting that Ildranos placed too much optimistic faith in the Helian governing body to take action; although it became clearly apparent that the occurrence of the Dream in the Gifted was not a new topic of discussion amongst the Helians. By all appearances they had been aware of it for some time now.
    “The re-distribution of forces at this time is not a valuable use of our resources.? The Councillor was droning, during one of the few moments that Melanth was paying attention, and not flicking the tip of his tail for Katrina to snatch at. “Given that the Siege of the Eastern Deadlands has far greater verifiable tactical importance than the pursuit of unfounded ‘visions’, I cannot represent your proposal to withdraw the fourth and ninth taskforces back to a defensive perimeter. The Council has already decided against such actions.?
    “Unfounded?? Crozialus stormed. “Talk to the Gifted, good Councillor. It is no coincidence that each one of us has experienced the same Dream on the same night and by all accounts, at the same time. At least strengthen the guard; it will not do harm to be prepared to turn back an assault, even if one is not forthcoming.?
    The two sank back into discussion, and Melanth rolled his eyes.
    “Now I see where the expression ‘talks like a Helian’ comes from.? He growled in the human language, getting appraising glances from Katrina and Darkskye. He was rapidly losing his patience; the Councillor seemed to think that because the matter had been discussed by his superiors, that the debate was over. Crozialus persisted in attempting to persuade him to support a pre-emptive action in the ongoing debates in the Council Chamber, but the green was having none of it.
    “If it is rash and undecided actions you seek, then perhaps you should have taken the matter to the Lunus!? The Councillor snapped eventually, after Crozialus had made some not entirely unprovoked personal remarks that set Katrina blushing when Melanth translated them.
    “Perhaps we will do that.? Melanth put in, his last vestiges of patience having run out, his ear-fins pressed flat to his neck in agitation. “We came to the dragons because we believe this matter to be of great importance and requiring swift and decisive action! We believed that the Helians would be capable of providing such action and not sit around slapping their tails like a bunch of soft-scaled lizards agonising over technicalities. We shall seek help elsewhere, and you will see we spoke true when there is an army scaling the cliffs! Have you become so much like the lesser races that you favour talk over action? The Gifted tell you that something is amiss; use your ears! Attacks have stopped, and by your own commander’s accounts there has been an increase of activity within the Eastern Deadlands. By the name of Drulkar at least investigate!?
    “The matter is not for you to decide!? The Councillor said, slamming his tail into the ground. “Nor will I condone action without tangible evidence; for all we know the Dream may have been planted by the Withered Aegis just to cause us to re-deploy our forces so that they could attempt a breakout from the Deadlands. The Council will decide how we shall respond. I will not give them further cause-“
    Melanth turned tail and stormed out, feeling as though molten lead had collected in his lungs and behind his eyes. He was quivering with suppressed rage as he stepped out into the open air and emptied his over full flame-ducts onto the walkway. The discussion had begun at dawn; it was now the middle of the night. He stretched cramped muscles and took a deep breath, almost surprised that smoke did not billow forth from his nostrils when he exhaled. He shuffled aside as Katrina and Crozialus emerged, closely followed by Ildranos and Darkskye, the two bodyguards who escorted them having long since departed. Darkskye glanced at the flames dancing merrily in the darkness thoughtfully, scratching her neck with a hind leg.
    “Do you think he bought it?? Melanth said to no one in particular, closing his eyes, imagining the gentle breeze to be carrying away his frustration. It didn’t work. Opening his eyes again, he saw the others settling themselves.
    “About going to the Lunus?? Ildranos said, licking at a loose scale. “I don’t think it matters much either way; he spoke the truth, though he substituted ‘I’ for ‘we’ a lot.? He said tonelessly. “Even if we could persuade him to back us, it would make little difference in the council chambers.?
    “And there is no chance of getting an audience with a more influential Governor??
    “Little.? Crozialus replied with a tired voice. “Besides, it would be fairly pointless. The nature of the discussion itself has the odds stacked against us.?
    “What do you mean?? He asked, thinking for a moment. “You mean the Council reject the matter out of hand because the Gifted are putting pressure on them??
    “That is exactly the reason.? Crozialus grumbled. “The Gifted operate autonomously of any single government; we are free to come and go in any land as we please and moreover we cannot die. Politicians don’t like that. They think that conceding to the Gifted will show a weakening of our- that is, the Helian’s- segregation policies. A large nebulous military force can’t be allowed to force decisions in a domestic government; the Gifted answer to the Empire. They fear the loss of their independence.?
    “Paranoid fools!? Melanth spat. “The Gifted answer to no one- not even the Empire; we serve to protect its borders, not its machinations! They would allow their own destruction because they think it a ploy to integrate them further into the Empire, and because they do not like being told what to do? We shall see their minds changed when the Aegis are battering down the gates.?
    “I fear you are right.? Crozialus sighed. “But I do not see that the Lunus are any better; they are even more isolationist than we Helians. They may respect the Gifted as one warrior to another, but I doubt they will be much more cooperative. Who is to say that what has happened here will not happen in Dralk too??
    “It truly has all gone political.? Melanth sighed. “What must we do to prove no deceit, short of dragging Torrin Macalir before them and beating a confession out of him??
    “Perhaps all is not lost.? Darkskye said. “It is no secret that the Lunus and the Helian are at odds; it is possible that the Helian’s inactivity will spur them into action over this matter.?
    “It would be in best keeping of your traditions. Send an aerial division to swat a fly, and spare not the heavy-clawed response.? Crozialus said dryly. “At least from their point of view, anyways.?
    “I would like to believe that our two peoples have not become so estranged that such petty posturing would occur.? Ildranos said, with a sad shake of his head. “But for once we must hope that such is the case. I cannot comment on the Dream or what it portends as I am not Gifted, but by Drulkar’s tail scales even the most wet-winged hatchling can tell that something is amiss. Did we not swear oaths to the defence of Chiconis?? He said to Crozialus. “It is our duty to see to it that this plot is exposed. After all, we swore an oath to Chiconis, not to the Council, or even the Helian.?
    “Your duty is to do as you are ordered, lieutenant.? Crozialus said with the ghost of a grin. “But I see you are learning that the Oath can be a useful tool to those who can find loopholes. I am ordering you to stay here. Should events turn for the worse we will need you here to gently remind the Council that their decision was wrong, that their in-action was wrong, that their criticism of the Gifted was wrong, that their pathetic posturing was definitely wrong...? He counted off on his claws.
    “Did I miss something?? Melanth said. “I don’t recall inviting an expedition. We will deliver our report to Dralk and see where matters go from there. If all else fails we can at least seek support amongst the Gifted.?
    “I will deliver the report.? Darkskye said, tapping the shards of inscribed slate she had tucked into the folds of her wing. “After all, I was charged with delivering one. Letters mean more than words in a politician’s world, and these documents have the official scale of that Councillor on them. The Lunus Council will pounce on the chance to humiliate the Helian as though it were a fat Grouk. I will come with you and deliver these in person.?
    “I have an ear with the Gifted, you might say.? Crozialus added. “If your plan fails, you will need me to help arrange matters. Don’t think you are leaving me behind.?
    “So it’s settled then.? Melanth said with a sigh, too frustrated and tired to think up a counter argument. “Another adventure? I have had enough of those recently to last me a century.?

    ***

    They returned to the outpost with Crozialus that same night. The aging Captain ordered supplies to be made ready and set his affairs in order whilst the Melanth and Katrina returned to their cavern to catch up on their sleep. Another skillet full of some nightmarish concoction was waiting for them upon arrival and Katrina refused it outright, instead curling up on a pile of dusty straw and falling immediately asleep. Melanth downed the broth-like sludge in one go, then dressed his wounds and followed her example. He was woken several times during the night to the sound of shouting conducted by echo through the labyrinth of caverns and tunnels that made up the outpost; by the sounds of it Crozialus’ announcement of his departure had not been received well.
    They don’t like it one little bit.? He grumbled to Melanth in the morning, when the two happened upon each other in the feeding chamber. “But one of the founding statements of the non-aggression pact we signed with the Empire was that the Gifted were to be allowed to go where we will in defence of the lands. They can’t stop me.? He said, but he did not sound pleased about it.
    “No one if forcing you to go.? Melanth said, more hinting than conciliatory. He had spent some time thinking through their course of action, and had found that it would only go to further jeopardise already tenuous relations between the Helian and Lunus. Although one dragon’s defection would be unlikely to change matters much, it would be just one more snowflake to add to the mounting avalanche. “You shouldn’t be doing this at your time of life, Crozialus. What about your family, your command??
    “My time of life? You cheeky bastard! I was cracking skulls before you were even an egg!? The old red replied with a hearty chuckle. “I talked it over with my mate last night, and she agrees. Fear not; I am not throwing my deeds in life to the wind to go on this half-arsed venture. There will still be something here for me when all this is over.? He said. “As for my command, I suspect I shall not be keeping it for very much longer regardless. As I said yesterday the Council suspects the Gifted of placing their loyalty to the Empire before Chiconis, so those of us in positions of power are slowly finding that our units are being ‘reassigned’. Besides, I doubt my dung-flinging match with the Councillor will go much towards helping matters there.?
    Katrina entered the feeding chamber with a stifled yawn, ignoring the blood that pooled around her toes and hacking at the remains of Melanth’s kill with a knife. Crozialus watched her with interest, looking much as though he were weighing up his hunger versus the tenderness of her meat. Melanth unconsciously coiled his tail around her.
    “She’s an odd one isn’t she?? He said. “Most of the two-legged types vomit when they see us eating for some reason. I guess the stuff I had Vantak prepare was not suited to her tastes??
    “You could say that. She’s Gifted so I guess squeamishness doesn’t come into it much, but Bipeds have different tastes to us.? He said. “I guess your dragons have made ready some supplies for us??
    “Such as we have in the stores here.? Crozialus replied. “But with luck we will not need of provisions. I have enough influence and coin still that the Travel Gate may be open to us.?
    “That would be of great help.? Melanth said, watching Katrina retreat with her prize. “The Lunus will not be happy to see us arrive in Dralk with a Biped in tow, but at least we have a legitimate reason. I fear for Katrina’s safety within Dralk. I will have to impress upon her not to wander off; she is a bit of a dreamer.?
    “As you said, she is also Gifted, and so free to go where she will in the lands.? Crozialus said with a toss of his head. “Although, it would help if there was something to show as much. I shall try to acquire an Emblem for her; that will soften the Lunus’ attitude. In the mean time I would not have her, or you for that matter, think that all Helians are as backwards as our politicians.? He added. “It will take a few hours to finalise matters, why don’t you take her to see a little of our city??
    Melanth did just that. He drew some odd glances as he alighted near the middle tier, festooned in bandages and with a human riding upon his back. The Dragons soon forgot about them though, turning back to whatever occupation they had at hand. With little to see on the surface, he led Katrina underground, keeping her close as they navigated the various subterranean chambers and corridors, some of which opened out into bridges through massive subterranean lakes, delicately illuminated with glowing crystals. In one such cavern a dog-sized hatchling erupted from the water next to them with a glowing globe clasped in its jaws, scrabbling up onto the bridge and spinning around to check for signs of pursuit. It emitted a victorious squawk, and then another, more surprised one when it saw Katrina.
    “Your mother would swing you by your tail if she heard you using that sort of language.? Melanth chuckled. “Do not be afraid; she is a friend.?
    “You mean it won’t skin us?? the hatchling said in its strange, piping little voice, spitting out the globe cautiously. For such a young dragon it spoke the human language remarkable well. Other hatchlings poked their heads out of the water to watch; obviously a game of some sort had been interrupted.
    “Why would I want to do that?? Katrina said, crouching down to let the hatchling sniff her hand.
    “Momma says that the two-leggers come in the night and cut your throat with their metal talons!? it peeped excitedly, licking at the meat smell clinging to her hand. “Then they pull off your scales for their fake skins, and nail your head to the walls of their above-ground caves!?
    “I think I should have a word with your momma.? Katrina said with a chuckle, tickling the hatchling under the chin. It went cross-eyes for a moment, rumbling in its throat with a noise much like a cat’s purr. “If it makes you feel any better my mother used to tell me the same stories about dragons, but you’re not all bad. I think your momma was just trying to scare you.?
    The hatchling leaned into her caressing fingers, coming back to its senses when its fellows still paddling in the water giggled. It threw them a jaundiced glare, turning back to Katrina.
    “You want to play?? It cheeped hopefully, nudging at the glowing globe. “First to three nests wins!?
    “How do I play?? She asked, adding as an aside to Melanth “How much is a nest??
    “A nest is five, so three nests would be fifteen.? He said. “All you have to do is pick up the essence orb and throw it to them.?
    She did so, laughing as the hatchlings sped off after it; their youthfully large claws propelling them easily through the water. The game was a simple one, like what Melanth had see many humans playing; one team had to get the orb onto the bridge, and the other had to drop it on the sands of the opposite shore. Soon the game became not about goals, but about which hatchling could catch the thrown orb in its jaws, before swimming up to her and dropping it to be thrown again. They became quite engrossed in it, even losing their track of time until Ildranos appeared at the cave mouth and politely coughed to catch their attention.
    “Crozialus has finalised arrangements for our passage to Dralk.? He said. “The Council has been giving him trouble over this, but they cannot stop him under the Peace Accord. I think they will take this to the Empire though; that Councillor looked like the kind who does not forget an insult quickly.? He warned.
    “We have already made ourselves little enough friends here as it is.? Melanth grumbled. “A few more enemies won’t hurt. Seeking assistance is more important than anything else now.?
    “You are playing a dangerous game.? Ildranos said, switching to draconic for privacy’s sake. “What Crozialus spoke of? It has been building for decades now, but now that the war is less of a priority it is coming to the fore. I hear whispers. The Dragons fear the Empire; the Bipeds unite even as we grow more divided, and the Gifted are neither one nor the other. They fear that the Bipeds will make servants of us by forcing us to join their Empire!? He said. “The Helians are not as different from the Lunus as you may think; it is only our methods are different, the intention is the same. They wish to rule the Bipeds as we once did; they say it is the calling of Dragon kind. Neither faction truly trusts the Gifted, not even Dragons with the Gift. They think you are waterblood, question your faith. They will try to force you to choose one side or the other.?
    “Side? There are no sides- only conflicting interests. It’ll be a sad day when there is anything but one side and the Aegis still live.? He said, flicking an ear-fin. “Besides, I like the middle.?
    “You make enemies like an artisan.? Ildranos said sadly. “The middle is the most dangerous place to be. I thought a Lunus would know that; enemies on all sides. I am surprised you can afford so many on a warrior’s pay.?
    “Oh, being in the middle isn’t always a disadvantage.? Melanth said. “A good tactician will tell you that sometimes the middle is the best place to be. That way no one is sure where you will go, which front you will try to break out on, and they spread themselves thin trying to surround you. If you have your back to a wall they cannot sneak up behind you, but if things go sour you are left with nowhere to run. At least in the middle you can choose where to pick your battles; when to fight and when to retreat. If you commit yourself to the fight too early you are not prepared for the unexpected, and Weser will lose his hat again. Sometimes, just sometimes, your greatest disadvantage is your best friend.?
    “I hope you are right.? Ildranos said. “I truly do.?

    ***

    Melanth did not much lament saying goodbye to Chiconis. The city was beautiful in its own way, but it was terribly plain and... New. It felt almost temporary, despite the logic that anything chiselled from the face of a mountain was probably meant to last for a long time. Dralk had History; not the plain kind written in books or dug up by archaeologists, but the living breathing kind that you could feel pulsing around you. Dralk had Destiny. Even if no one was quite sure what that Destiny was you could still feel it in the air.
    They assembled before the Travel Gate an hour later, Ildranos, the two bodyguards and what looked like half a battalion of dragons bearing the Helian military insignia painted upon their wings waiting in reception. Melanth felt like an outsider as Crozialus went amongst them, exchanging fond farewells and sharing memories. Some of the dragons had brought gifts, but he respectfully declined all but a crystal pendant, given to him by his mate; a medal of sorts, clearly won along with the Helian’s respect for some past heroic deed. When he was done he stood before the Gate and raised his head and wings in the traditional salute, bowing to the assembled host when they returned the honour. It dawned on Melanth that Crozialus was leaving much more than just his family and command behind.
    “Let’s get a move on, before I change my mind.? He said, slipping the medal over his neck. He retched and spat out a small medallion on a chain at Katrina’s feet; an Emblem, proclaiming her to be of the Gifted and as such worthy of free passage. She picked it up with a faint expression of horror and wiped it clean on her pants.
    “Now it’s your turn to wear the collar.? Melanth sniggered, still bitter over the Cleric’s medallion.
    “Did he have to eat it first?? She said, examining the corroded but legible engravings.
    “Dragons carry a lot of stuff around in our stomachs. It helps to grind up bones and it’s a handy way of storing things when you don’t have a pack.? He explained, gently nudging her towards the gate. Darkskye followed and stretched her wings, evidently enjoying the prospect of a swift return. They stopped just before the glowing blue event-horizon of the Gate, the two story tall circle of engraved runes humming gently against its binding chains. It was almost like looking into a barrel of water laid on its side; assuming one could find a way of preventing the water from spilling out and making it glow.
    “This isn’t going to hurt, is it?? Katrina said with just a whisper of apprehension in her voice.
    “Not at all.? Melanth said, licking her reassuringly. “If anything goes wrong you won’t even know a thing.?
    “That’s comforting.?
    Crozialus went first through the gate, followed by Darkskye. Katrina hesitated.
    “How often do these things go wrong?? She said, nervousness now clearly pronounced.
    “Not very often at all; only once that I know of.?
    “What happened??
    “The man’s top half arrived inside out. No one knows what happened to the other bit.?
    He put his muzzle to the small of her back, shoving her through with a flick of his nose, ignoring her startled protest. He turned and took one last look at Chiconis, seeing the mountains far in the distance, admiring their dangerous beauty.
    “One day, I will make a good thing last forever.? He whispered to himself, and stepped through.
    Melanath- level 100 ADV/ 60 DCRA -
    Shas Mackard- Saris Berserker/Outfitter et al

    For Lunus, for Dralk! Death before Dishonour!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Shadows of Night pt 10

    Wow! I like your writing style, although as a personal preference would like to see more paragraphs or line spacing indents.

    First thought that came to mind when I saw the top was the fabled,

    "Wall of Text hits you for 482,345 damage.
    You are incapacitated by Wall of Text.
    You have died."

    Scrolled down then went back up to read a little bit once I saw it at least had a few in it. Good flavor for soul food, so read it all.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  3. #3
    Member velveeta's Avatar
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    Default Re: Shadows of Night pt 10

    and i am not getting the reason for all the different threads -
    i am not beeatching, just wondering why you couldn't have posted all the posts in one thread.....
    you can't cast a play in hell and expect angels as actors
    check out my game blog: http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/velveeta
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    Default Re: Shadows of Night pt 10

    Blarg! there were 8 space indents in the originals and the copys posted to DA, but for some reason they dont seem to have transferred here *makes note to add indents and resses Shian*

    I posted to different threads because i thought it would be easier to distinguish chapters rather than end up with a half million charachter long topic that no one would ever get to the end of, but if its easier i can just add the next one to the end of this?
    Melanath- level 100 ADV/ 60 DCRA -
    Shas Mackard- Saris Berserker/Outfitter et al

    For Lunus, for Dralk! Death before Dishonour!

  5. #5
    Member velveeta's Avatar
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    Default Re: Shadows of Night pt 10

    for me, i say do as you will! if it is an official bother, the forum mods will let you know!
    you can't cast a play in hell and expect angels as actors
    check out my game blog: http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/velveeta
    ogle the menagerie:http://www.freewebs.com/velveeta/

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